What if the LA Clippers Drafted Vince Carter in 1998?

Garrett Chorpenning

Vince Carter played the final game of his 22-year career on March 11, and on Thursday morning, he officially called it quits.

"I'm officially done playing basketball professionally," Carter said on the latest episode of his podcast.

The 43-year-old played for eight different teams throughout his NBA career, and unfortunately, the LA Clippers were never one of them. That said, the franchise had its chance to draft him back in 1998.

The Clippers had the No. 1 overall pick in the 1998 NBA Draft and a talented pool to choose from. In addition to Carter, Mike Bibby, Antawn Jamison, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce and Rashard Lewis were all available. Instead, LA wound up taking Michael Olowokandi, who spent five years with the team and was out of the league by 2007. Carter, on the other hand, went North to play for the Toronto Raptors.

But what if the Clippers drafted Carter instead? 

Like the Clippers, the Raptors were in a tough spot in 1998. Having only joined the NBA three years prior, Toronto had yet to experience any real success. At the time, the franchise's best campaign was a 30-win season in 1996-97. 

What Carter would do for the franchise over the next six years is essentially what Blake Griffin did for the Clippers in the 2010s: He put them on the map.

Carter led the team in win shares in each of his first four seasons and he scored the ball with ease. From 1998-2002, he averaged a sky-high 24.6 points per game and shot close to 40% from three-point range. And like Griffin, Carter was widely known for his insane athleticism.

At this point, just about everyone has seen his performance in the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest, or his "Dunk of Death" over 7-foot-2-inch big Frederic Weis in the Olympics that same year. Griffin's dunk over Timofey Mozgov in 2010 doesn't quite compare, but it can be used as a point of reference. 

Following his rookie year, Carter's Raptors made the playoffs three seasons in a row, going from NBA expansion team to postseason contender in a matter of five years. He was traded in December 2004 to the New Jersey Nets, but at that point, everyone knew who the Raptors were 

Had the Clippers drafted Carter instead, LA might not have needed a Griffin or a Chris Paul to put them on the map. Perhaps the dark days of the franchise would have ended long ago, and the Clippers could have been champions by now.

We'll never know the difference he could have made for the franchise, but as he wraps up a 22-year career, the impact he made on the NBA is clear. He inspired the likes of Paul George and Donovan Mitchell, each of whom emulated his famous dunks, and was a model veteran for younger players in the twilight of his career. 

Thank you, Vince.

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